Usc College Essay

Let’s start with the question you asked yourself that led you to this blog post: “WHAT DO THEY WANT TO HEAR?!” Here’s the answer: nothing. There isn’t one right answer. Repeat and internalize that. The purpose of these questions, like the Columbia short answer questions, is to get to know you. Think about it: if you heard someone’s favorite snack was a kale salad, you would think of them differently than someone who answered ‘Cheetos.’ Remember that everything you put in any application represents who you are, and while the admissions committee is going to analyze your answers to some extent, don’t freak out. These answers are just an extension of you. It’s not complicated, so don’t overcomplicate it, but by all means be thoughtful. As a rule of thumb, don’t try to stand out by being controversial, and definitely don’t lie. That being said, there truly is no wrong answer as long as you don’t go for the most boring/obvious/provocative option for everything.

In summary, we offer the following mantras:

  1. There is no right/wrong answer

  2. Trust your gut instinct

  3. Don’t take this too seriously

  4. Embrace your weirdness

Now let’s get going. Here are the USC Short Answer Questions with our explanations:

Describe yourself in three words.
First Word:
Second Word:
Third Word:

For this question, we have our students text a minimum of five friends and ask them for three adjectives they’d use to describe the student. Those adjectives always end up falling into a few categories, so we help our students take the answers they receive, and either select or brainstorm the best adjective in each category. For example, if a student receives texts from friends that say, “leader, over-achiever, hard-working,” we might suggest “ambitious.” This is just one of many ways to answer this short answer question, but we find it always produces well-rounded answers. We realize that this says “words” not “adjectives,” so we give you permissions to write “always eating tacos” if you feel that that’s more of who you are.

Rules to follow for this question:

  1. Don’t use empty words like ‘nice,’ ‘fun,’ or ‘outgoing.’ These words say nothing about you.

  2. Avoid most cultural references, particularly achingly timely ones that may be fleeting—i.e.: don’t write “young, scrappy, hungry” as your answer.

  3. If you’re going to go with a funny answer, make sure the answers to the following questions match your tonal mark.

What is your favorite snack?

Use this question to let the reader into your home. If you have an interesting background or tradition centered on food, this is a good time to show it. So, for example, if you’re Hungarian and your favorite snack is Chicken Paprikash, let them know. It’ll allow a small window into your life. Again, there is no wrong answer here, but again, don’t be boring. Everyone likes pasta. Everyone loves pizza.

Favorite app/website:

This is your chance to amplify one of your interests. Don’t try to sound smart—your favorite website is probably not The Economist. Go for niche or esoteric websites that they might not have heard of previously, but that you genuinely enjoy checking. We suggest avoiding Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook as answers for all of the obvious reasons.  

Best movie of all time:

Our students get very anxious about this answer in particular because everyone has opinions on movies and they don’t want their answer to seriously conflict with the opinion of the person reading it. Again, there is no wrong answer. Have we said that enough? Just make sure your answer says something about your personality and interests. Don’t overthink it. (If you’re wondering, we think Spy Kids 2 and Casablanca are the best movies of all time.)

Hashtag to describe yourself:

Full disclosure: this is the worst short answer question on USC’s application. Our advice here is to be as funny and quirky as possible. Keep it short and sweet, #becausehowcanyoureallydecipherwhichwordsarewhichwhenyouchoosealonghashtagitlookslikejibberish. Email us if you want help brainstorming.

Dream job:

This answer should be loosely tied to whatever your reasons are for attending USC because your application has to have continuity. So if you’re applying to the film school, follow that trajectory by saying you want to be a filmmaker or film editor. If you’re applying to the engineering school, maybe your dream job is to work at SpaceX. Don’t say you want to work in Private Banking for JP Morgan if you’re applying to be an English major.

What is your theme song?

We like to tie this answer to an extracurricular activity if possible. For example, we had one student who spent upwards of 20 hours a week at her Ballet Academy. As such, her theme song was Raymonda, Act Two: Variation IV by Alexander Glazunov. For this question, you should avoid current popular songs or historically overplayed songs. This question can help you stand out.

Dream trip:

Again, build off of an existing interest that you have or that you’ve already mentioned. If you’re a surfer, maybe you want to go to Australia. If you’re an admirer of French cuisine, maybe you want to go to Provence. Make sure this answer isn’t random.

What TV show will you binge watch next?

There is no real strategy with this question other than to not be vapid in your response. Unlike the other short answers, this question allows you to show a side of your personality as opposed to expand on an interest. There’s a difference in the type of person who wants to binge watch Chefs Table vs. the person who wants to binge watch Pretty Little Liars. If you’re genuinely lost, you might want to go with more critically acclaimed shows, like Breaking Bad, Stranger Things, etc.

Place you are most content?

This is the best question for you to get the reader to empathize with you. The place where you’re most content shows vulnerability and your true colors, so please don’t say “The Habitat For Humanity construction site” or the local soup kitchen. Our students have told colleges that the place where they’re most content is their bed, their couch, and their kitchen. You want a real, human answer for this. Think genuine, and go from there. On all counts, really.

We understand that these short answer questions are relatively daunting to answer because you don’t have room for an explanation. But fear not! We’re here to help if you need another set of eyes or a brainstorming partner.

 

Brief Intro to USC

With a total undergraduate enrollment of 19,000, there is opportunity around every corner of USC’s beautiful campus. Academics at USC follow a Renaissance ideal, and the school emphasizes a unique undergraduate experience built around flexible academic programs and interdisciplinary research.

 

USC athletic teams boast a total of 123 national titles across various sports, and fans from across the nation often deck themselves out in cardinal and gold in support of the dominant Trojan football team. Athletics prides itself on this “fighting spirit,” and over 40 USC athletes participated in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.

 

The USC social dynamic is diverse and exciting, and if Greek life is your thing, about 25% of men are in a fraternity and 20% of women are in a sorority. With amazing academics and a gung-ho student culture, it’s no wonder that USC alum come away loving their four years as a Trojan.

 

Please respond to one of the (three) prompts below. (250 word limit)

 

Tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea…

 

USC believes that one learns best when interacting with people of different backgrounds, experiences and perspectives. Tell us about a time you were exposed to a new idea or when your beliefs were challenged by another point of view.

 

As USC makes clear in this prompt, they are looking to add diversity and believe that their student body will thrive when members of different backgrounds interact. Thus, this prompt is best if you can write at length on your unique views and experiences, and how a new idea or puzzling belief uprooted your sense of self. It’s a chance to share your individuality, perspectives, potential flaws, and willingness to adapt and improve with the world around you.

 

There are many ways to approach this prompt, since diversity prompts are becoming common, but two strong ways would be to use a narrative before explanation or give a vivid character description of yourself and the fundamental change in your perspective.

 

Remember to speak about the belief that challenged you in a nuanced way — most competitive applicants share experiences in being challenged by new academic and ethical perspectives, so strive to leave the reader thinking, “I never thought about that or experienced that before.” The new idea or belief can range from a social issue you initially disagreed with, to views on daily habits and vices, and often times entertaining stories can be weaved around a challenging moment.

 

If using a narrative, focus on employing descriptive language and sensory detail to transport the reader into the moment, and center your narrative around the event that challenged your views. Follow up with an explanation of your reaction and change in perspective. This is a great opportunity to showcase your writing ability and intrigue your reader, but avoid overdoing it or making your story feel comedic. It might pay to use a twist introduction or hyperbole when expressing your revelation, but still avoid aggrandizing excessively.

 

If you choose to write a description of your character, use vivid language to describe what you were like before and after exposure to the unique perspective on which you’re writing. Then, explain what this perspective was and how you changed. For example, you may have once been rather timid but are now bold and venturous, which you can elaborate on before describing the new belief that challenged you to the core and caused this change in personality. It’s a gamble that may confuse the reader, but can also make for a very interesting and enjoyable read.

 

Describe something outside of your intended academic focus…

 

Describe something outside of your intended academic focus about which you are interested in learning.

 

This is a straightforward prompt, and the response can be equally straightforward. If you have some academic interest not related to your major, explain what that is, why it’s important to you, and how you will strive to learn more about it. It can be something you have no experience in so far and are interested in learning more. You want to avoid discussing an interest or topic that doesn’t expand upon your extracurriculars and activities — rather, talk about a hidden passion or growing field that you are dying to explore and learn more about.

 

An alternate approach is to employ an anecdote to describe this interest. For example, you can talk about how you’ve wanted to master chess after hearing about computer AI that beat the world’s best chess player, or how you play the flute but know nothing about music theory and would like to learn more regardless of your intended degree in mechanical engineering. Maybe you are passionate about tying knots after being an eagle scout, and would like to expand your knowledge of knots and start a club at USC. There are few clichés — what you choose to write about will most likely be unique to your interests, so don’t feel limited in terms of what you choose to reveal.

 

What is something about yourself that is essential…

 

What is something about yourself that is essential to understanding you?

 

This prompt’s theme is similar to that of the first Common Application essay prompt: “Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful, they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.” If you wrote an essay for that prompt, it may be wise to select one of the other two options, unless you have something important and lengthy to write about here that is not otherwise discussed in your Common Application essay.

 

Admissions at USC can most likely gauge who you are as an academic and hard-working individual through the rest of your application, especially in terms of scores and extracurricular activities. Thus, when revealing something about yourself that is fundamental to understanding who you are, try not to talk more about traits involving your academics, i.e., traits that explain why you are so hard-working. If you do, it may be at the expense of being cliché and limiting the perspective of yourself lent to the admissions committee.

 

Also, essays on the experience of being a first-generation student, immigrant, or dedicated athlete have been rendered cliché by the frequency with which students write about them. Avoid these topics or take a nuanced approach that will distinguish you from other applicants.

 

The approach is simple, and you can use an anecdote here for a vehicle. You could talk about how growing up with synesthesia explains your love for music or how your uncle’s work as a surgeon has inspired you in many ways. Understand that no matter what you write about, it should inherently reveal something the admissions needs to know about you as a person.

 





 

Describe yourself…

 

Describe yourself in three words.

 

This part is simple, so don’t overthink it, but avoid being generic. It is a tendency to put words like generous, trustworthy, persevering, focused, diligent, etc., because it is natural for a student to convey their hard-working attitude and model-citizen personality. However, even if those do apply to you, USC wants to see you describe yourself as who you are, not who the student side of you is.

 

Whether you are quirky, amenable, inquisitive, gullible, compassionate, etc., it’s important to accurately portray your personality type. Be honest (even at the expense of mild self-deprecation, though it should be in good humor — nothing negative and contradictory), and use sophisticated diction.

 

Rapid fire – Personal Questions

 

What is your favorite snack?

Favorite app/website:

Best movie of all time:

Hashtag to describe yourself:

Dream job:

What is your theme song?

Dream trip:

What TV show will you binge watch next?

Place you are most content?

 

These are all personal questions that have no wrong answer, so feel free to answer what your actual likes and preferences are, whether your dream job is to be a freelance photographer (even though you’re applying as an electrical engineer), your theme song is the Pokémon theme (because you’ve been playing way too much Pokémon Go), your favorite website is The New Yorker, and you are most content people-watching on a park bench.

 

For some questions, such as the favorite TV show, students often feel compelled to portray themselves as a cultured and conscientious person and may elect to write down some documentary series or history show that they don’t actually watch, but this is the wrong approach. Admissions can often see through false answers when looking at your application as a whole. Be honest, even if that show is Game of Thrones, because it can reveal that you are in sync with modern culture and trends.

 

Writing the School of Engineering Prompts

 

If you plan on applying to the School of Engineering:

 

While scientists yearn to discover the world that exists, Engineers and Computer Scientists seek to create the world that never was. Our faculty and students believe collaborative teams are the key to great accomplishments. Please describe a time in your life (academic, co-curricular, or otherwise) where you had to collaborate to accomplish more than you could alone. (250 word limit)

 

Collaboration is important in the world of science and engineering, so USC wants to see the role collaboration has played in your past experiences. While most students will opt for the cliché “important group project in APUSH that you guys got an A on,” it’s important to give a nuanced approach to the topic of collaboration and how you collaborated.

 

You can really drive a narrative here, starting by describing a conflict in the realm you collaborated in, whether that was a small business you started with two friends or a research project during a summer program, then explaining how it was resolved and what you learned from that experience.

 

You could also reveal some vulnerabilities, stating how you had always been independent-minded and had done all work yourself, until you came across a daunting academic or extracurricular challenge so vast that you had to sacrifice your pride and collaborate to achieve more than you could have alone. The word count is limited, but it is important to use a good anecdote and clearly communicate the personality traits this collaboration reveals about yourself.

 

Your browser history says a lot about you. Take a moment to think about the time you spend online. Whether it’s browsing an Instagram account, listening to your favorite podcast, subscribing to the best web series on YouTube, or even addressing questions on tech-help forums, we want to know where you spend the most time online, and why. Please share your favorite online destination (via a web address, specific app, social network, etc.) — and describe why in a few sentences. (250 word limit)

 

Like the question you answered on your favorite website, this is a chance to reveal your personal style and preferences. Of course, you don’t want your favorite online destination to be Facebook or Twitter, unless there is a special reason why, such as using that site as a marketing platform for your budding tech startup, or using them to spread awareness for events at a local shelter.

 

Since this is your application to the school of engineering, they naturally want to see that where you end up online tends towards your STEM interests. On the flip-side, they don’t want to see you as a purely academic type who only reads nature publications every week — reveal who you are as a person through your web history in a way that ties in your desire to enter engineering.

 

Maybe you use your Instagram account to follow major companies and the kind of the things they are building, and you then post your own inventions to garner feedback and a following. Or perhaps you enjoy online tutorials and engaging science lectures on YouTube, or use Reddit to crowdsource massive amounts of polling data for a personal social psychology experiment. Similar to previous questions, there are few clichés because this is very personal, so have fun with your response!

 

Get your essay reviewed by our expert team before submitting. For more help and guidance through the admissions process, sign up for our distinguished application guidance services. Good luck with admissions, and fight on!

 








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